DF Interview: Johnnie Christmas sends an innocent cadet on a journey into everlasting darkness in ‘Tartarus’
By Byron Brewer
Promising young cadet Tilde is framed for crimes against the empire after discovering her mother was the ruthless warlord of the deadly colony Tartarus, a vital player in the galactic war. Now, Tilde's only way home may be to reclaim her mother's dark crown.
A new adventure series with all the sci-fi drama of Breaking Bad set in Mos Eisley! Number 1 New York Times bestseller Johnnie Christmas (Alien 3) and artist Jack T. Cole (The Unsound) kick off this ongoing series with 44 big pages of story.
You want more? So did DF! So we sat down with talented scribe Johnnie Christmas.
Dynamic Forces: Johnnie, tell our readers the genesis of your coming series Tartarus. Was there any specific inspiration for the book?
Johnnie Christmas: Years ago when I approached Jack with the initial idea, I wanted to write an epic where cutting edge sci-fi, cartels and mythology went hand in hand. A story where a character goes on a journey into the dark, in a place where the dark might be everlasting. But we also wanted the settings to be dazzling. A world you’d love to immerse yourself in and want to come back for more. Jack and I talked about all our influences and all the stuff we thought would be cool in a comic. All the stuff we hadn’t seen in a comic. We also wanted a comic that was built for the Direct Market, a book that would make someone excited to drive to the comic shop every month. Now as we’re building that world, I think we got all that and more.
DF: Describe the world that you and artist Jack T. Cole are building for readers here.
Johnnie Christmas: Two galactic empires are waging war and in the middle of that war is Tartarus, a mining colony that makes a material known as “The Liquid”. The Liquid can be turned into anything, so naturally it’s used to make weapons. But the Djinn, a group of miners, turned monastic order, turned smuggling cartel takes control of Tartarus and the Liquid. Their leader, a ruthless warlord named Surka, is a big pain in the empire’s side and must be…dealt with.
This is the world our character, Tilde, falls into when she learns she’s the daughter of Surka. She wants no part of it, but she also has no choice.
DF: It seems there are a lot of dichotomies in the Tartarus worldscape – “mysticism next to technology, ancient architecture carved into brutalist complexes, and outfits inspired by everything from Napoleonic uniforms to high fashion”, as Jack put it – that should present a lot of fun and a lot of opportunity for adventure. How are you two juggling these diverse aspects of science fantasy?
Johnnie Christmas: It really is quite fun! We can have stories that, on the surface, just feel like space-faring, high stakes adventure. But then underneath we can weave in themes, archetypes that reach back to the dawn of storytelling. The fundamental stuff we still grapple with: Light and dark, good and evil. Much like the first season of True Detective did. On the surface one thing, under the surface we’re tapping the elemental well.
DF: Introduce us to Tilde. Who is she and what challenges face her, now and going forward? Is she the POV character, of sorts?
Johnnie Christmas: Tilde starts out pretty innocent. She’s a trained army cadet, sure, but is essentially an administrative assistant for the army on her way out. But then when it’s discovered that her mother is Surka, the feared warlord of legend, at the same time as attacks are being made against the empire, Tilde has no choice but to run. Right into the heart of darkness, into the arms of adventure.
With Tilde, we wanted character exploration like Breaking Bad set within a space adventure like the first Star Wars trilogy. Using the Greek mythological underworld as a framework to tie it together.
DF: How big a role does Tilde’s mother (and her erstwhile title) play in this series?
Johnnie Christmas: Surka’s long shadow hangs over everything in the series. As we go deeper into the circumstances that forced Tilde to run in the first place, we get an idea just how far that shadow reaches. Just how hard her legacy is to outrun.
DF: What else can you tell readers about the initial arc of Tartarus?
Johnnie Christmas: We introduce the players that will be key to the series going forward. They start out wanting different things, on different paths and each one of them is confronted with challenges that force them to grow and change in startling and surprising ways.
We’ve given ourselves lots of interesting places to explore. Setting up dominoes that will pay off in the short- and long-term.
DF: Knowing you are an artist yourself, talk about the work on this series of Jack T. Cole.
Johnnie Christmas: What Jack’s done on the book is astounding. It’s truly one of the most beautiful comics I’ve seen in years. I know I might seemed biased, but seriously, don’t take my word for it, take a look and judge for yourself. He’s creating such a rich world on paper.
DF: Johnnie, what other projects in which you are involved can you tell readers about, inside or outside comics?
Johnnie Christmas: There’s nothing I can talk about just yet, but I’m working on a few things that I’m very, very excited about. I’m in the middle of a wonderfully creative period.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Johnnie Christmas for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Tartarus #1 from Image Comics hits stores Feb. 12th!
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